Sand Machine, Conference

sandmachine1A Boston band that came out of nowhere a few years ago, Sand Machine has grown even stronger than their 2002 debut indicated. They caught on with the city’s indie crowd as well as with the older folks who enjoy classic rock. Neil Young and The Beatles were the influences they wore on their sleeves.
This time around, on Conference, they have forged their influences into a coherent sound all their own. There is also more of a gritty feel, and they rock harder than on their two previous efforts
Conference opens with a bopping romp of guitars and bass, “It’s Getting Late,” that bumps you over the head with an adept blackjack of throbbing low end notes and a lead guitar solo that insinuates itself unusually early in the song. The vocalists, twins Dave and Jay Hepburn,   have found their own vocal   niches instead of singing with inflections that used   to sound like classic rock of old. Dave Hepburn is also Sand Machine’s drummer and Jay Hepburn plays rhythm guitar. Lead guitarist Jeremy Bates and bass player Noah   Scanlan(who also plays banjo and guitar) are the other two cornerstones. And cornerstones they each are in this band, as Sand Machine functions on a caliber that puts pressure on each to hold it all up. The twins sound very much alike, so it is hard for a CD reviewer to know which one to credit for each song.
The oddly titled “Noly-Noly Crimbellum” uses a simple electric guitar progression to back the lead vocalist whose emotive qualities easily raises this ditty to the heights of an anthem. Sand Machine, here, uses dynamics to create dramatic tension in their song. Gentle notes tickle the ear while driving leads create a sense of urgency.
“Call Me Elvis,” quirky and inventive, rocking and explorative, could be Sand Machine’s trademark hit song. It gallops along at a brisk pace and adds more layering as it goes and the vocalist charms with a mix of subtle and not so subtle vocal inflections.
Sand Machine has even greater control on Conference over where a song is going and over how to move it along. A guitar melody and organ riff give lift to “If You Won’t Feed Me,” a number that saunters mysteriously up to the listener with a steady cool, hands over a charming treat, then walks away with equal cool.
Sand Machine has also learned to do more with less.   A forceful, raw, unaffected vocal brings to life “Out Of Place.” Craftsmanship abounds through out. A sorrowful tune, “Put A Brave Face On,”   about confronting the feelings of loss after a relationship uses strong imagery to put the listener right there in the action. The poignant lyrics about crying into a cup of coffee matches perfectly the steady and forlorn guitar melody.    
Picking up the pace with a country flavored rocker, “Let The Demons Die,” Sand Machine gives us a fun, chicken picking guitar phrase and a shuffling, two-step beat to carry it along. This lead vocalist sounds serious and purposeful, and the contrast with the music is hilarious. Fun is the catalyst behind many of these Sand Machine tunes. It soon becomes clear that these guys are having fun with these quirky song ideas.   “Dance And Drink Wine” is another Sand Machine song that comes on slow and mellow before a vocalist’s powerful, exaggerated expression and an edgy guitar takes it to a party pitch. You just know that they had a blast throwing this song into high gear.
“Nick’s Canon” is bass player Noah Scanlan’s instrumental ode to all things Sand Machine, mixing his knowledge of   bass, guitar, and everything else he plays into a pleasant musical journey. “The Ship” becomes a guitarfest at the right moment for the tune to realize its’s emotional catharsis and it reflects more of the band’s newer hard groove, rockin’ feel. “Eagle’s Eye” close out with another steady slow number with many musical phrases darting about.
Conference will always be remembered as a turning point for Sand Machine. They have found their own voice. They have an edgier sound. They also gained the confidence to slow it down more often. This confidence arrives when a   band throws off the shackles of its influences and comes into its own.
Review By: Bill “Guy Who Writes Things About Bands” Copeland

[Rating: 4/5]

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